The Forbidden City
was the seat of Imperial power in China for more than 5 centuries. It was where the Emperors ruled and where every Chinese would want to pay pilgrimage to at least once in his/her lifetime, together with an excursion to the Great Wall of China. These are the 2 most magnificent man-made architecture in China. Both are huge and both plays a significant role in the history and civilization of China.
The Forbidden City is the largest palace and compound in the world when it was first built some 600+ years ago. It still is the largest in the world. Here, you will find some 9999 rooms with some one million bricks and two million tiles used in its construction. Only one man lived here, the Son of Heaven (during his reign), the rest were his concubines (thousands) and the castrated eunuchs who served him.
There had been many Chinese movies made about the Forbidden City and the Empress Dowager Cixi who ruled for the longest time. The most memorable western movie I remember is The Last Emperor
starring Joan Chen. If you've seen the movie, you'd have quite a good idea of how humongous the Imperial Palace is. It takes one a good four hour (at the least) to tour the Palace. That's only because most of the treasures that were once in the palace had been rampaged by the Europeans and Japanese during their attacks early last century. If those treasures are still around, it'd probably take you at least a week to go through the compound. In any case, give yourself at least a good four hour for a quick tour. One walks from the South to the North, one way in and one way out. Before that you'll likely walk through the Tiananmen Square before venturing into the Forbidden City. If you'd like to see the whole of the Palace compound, go to the South gate & visit the Jingshan Park opposite it. Climb to the top of the pavilion and you'd get a good overview of the entire Palace. One tip though, do not go in the Winter!
My first trip was in the Summer 1993 and it was a little warm but otherwise a pleasant experience. I went again around end 1996 accompanying my aunt and it was in the winter. The only thought we had was to get out as soon as possible! In 2007, when I was staying in Beijing, I took another trip here and it was most pleasant in April. So, the time of the year makes a huge difference in visiting the Forbidden City (as well as the Great Wall of China)!
In the winter, Beijing is absolutely freezing and walking through the Forbidden City is not a pleasant experience at all. The stone wall and the bricks would be so cold that walking through it is not heavenly but hellish. Just like the Forbidden City, it was a palace as well as a prison for its occupants. For those who lived there, it was more of a life of betrayals and murders than those of luxury and happiness. Hundreds and thousands of concubines all vying for the attention of a lone man, the emperor! So, you can imagine! Well, if you can't, there are enough Chinese movies and tv series that recount the plight of some of these concubines and empresses. This is not a palace of joy. Rather, there had been many murders and suicides in this palace (perhaps like any other palaces too).
The 3 famous emperors who had ruled from here were Kangxi
. It was during Qianlong reign that the empire reached its zenith. Chinese supremacy during the 1700-1900 was unsurpassed until it fell to the invasion of the Boxers Rebellion and the Allied Forces in the early 20th century. That's also when my great grandparents left the country for good! As I've never met my grandpa, I have no idea at all what life in China was like.
Incidentally, the notorous Empress Dowager, Cixi, also ruled the empire from here after she organized a coup and installed her six year old son on the throne and then ruled under his name. The Central Kingdom was effectively ruled from within the walls of the Forbidden City, so named because no one other than the "ministers" being summoned by the Emperor were allowed into its wall. The Opium War changed everything and ended the rule of the emperors. The last emperor Puyi abdicated his throne in 1912.
The Forbidden City was once the most powerful symbol and icon for the Chinese people. Today, it's been converted to the Palace Museum and for a time, even Starbucks had a presence here. However, it has since been relocated after countless objections from the Chinese people. Everyday, the Palace Museum will welcome its visitors who still marvel at the magnificence of this architecture built some 6 centuries ago. It is a symbol of power and imperialism for the people of China. While the imperial family had been persecuted during the Cultural Revolution and no longer lives (I believe there is still some descendants who live among the common people) anywhere near this palace, the majestic architecture still dazzles many visitors and academics who have made their way here.
The Forbidden City has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987 so for those of you who are fans of the UNESCO
, make sure this is your no. 1 stop in Beijing. Do not miss it if you're visiting China. Otherwise, you've made a wasted trip as with the omission of the Great Wall. These are 2 of the most important architecture in China!